Wednesday, March 2, 2016

'His class is reflected in his statistics, but his elegance is carved into the memory'

We knew it was coming but it doesn't make it any easier when it happens and Martin Crowe's death will be felt widely by family, friends, cricket fans and sportspeople generally.

Simply put he was one of the great New Zealand sportsmen.

His class is reflected in his statistics, but his elegance is carved into the memory.

Where do you begin to describe the assault Crowe made on your appreciation of batsmanship?

Even when under a fierce barrage from Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee in his Test debut, Crowe looked the part. He admitted later he had been introduced too soon into the Test arena and while he took a little time to get over the shock, the readjustment wasn't too long in coming.

His career is littered with batting brilliance and the example in technique, timing and power when necessary will live long in the minds of followers of cricket.

Some chronological memories:

+ His innings of 66 in the Bushfire ODI in Sydney in March 1983, 363 days after his Test exposure to the Aussie fast men, signalled he was back. Playing on a wet wicket Crowe's technique was superior and demonstrated what lay ahead.

+ After what for him was a disappointing tour of England in 1983, he scored his maiden Test century on the Basin Reserve in a return series with England, a sizzling early cover driven four from Bob Willis' bowling became a trademark shot.

+ Consistency had been an issue in the next 18 months or so, but come Brisbane in 1985, there was no doubting his place among New Zealand's great batsmen with 188, a scored he made twice in a calendar year after an earlier score in Georgetown, Guyana, at the Gabba in the innings victory over Australia.

+ Back on home turf, in the return series against Australia, at Lancaster Park, he took one on the chin and had to leave the field with blood pouring from a wound. But when he returned the assault on the bowling was belligerent and fierce in his effort of 137.

+ At Lancaster Park again his 83 against the West Indies in 1987 helped set up a famous victory which allowed New Zealand to level the series against the world champions.

+ His 299 against Sri Lanka was notable for the world-record third wicket partnership of 467 he enjoyed with Andrew Jones.

+ Will his century in the opening game of the 1992 World Cup against Australia on Eden Park ever be forgotten? It was the start of the most remarkable month of his career as New Zealand came within a hamstring pull of winning the World Cup.

+ The 91 he scored in an ODI at Hamilton against Australia, a game in which Jeff Wilson launched his international career, was notable for the fact that he batted on one leg and still produced the brilliance associated with him in full flow.

+ There were the two centuries on what was his farewell tour of England, 142 at Lord's and 115 in Manchester.

Sadly the career ended with an ODI in Nagpur, India in which his parting contribution was 63.

The prize of a triple Test century was denied Crowe at the Basin Reserve against Sri Lanka and that may have been the last time he enjoyed batting with complete confidence that his legs, which would ultimately end his career, could allow him to flourish.

In the second Test of that series, in Hamilton, Crowe was running back from the slips to field a ball and suffered a horrendous twist in the knee, the same knee that had caused him to end his schoolboy rugby career.

It was the same leg that would see his hamstring falter in the all-important World Cup semi-final against Pakistan a year later. And that leg would eventually force him to the realisation that he was no longer able to continue.

Having had the chance to watch Crowe in action as a journalist covering the game, to help him pen his always interesting columns, there was also the chance to see him in action during a triumphant period of Wellington cricket in the early 1990s.

On days when he and his great mate Richard Reid opened the batting in one-day games for Wellington, crowds were queuing outside the Basin Reserve from 7 o'clock in the morning to see them tear opposing sides apart. They rarely failed to please.

In his pomp Crowe could stride to the wicket leaving the watcher in complete confidence that his wicket would never be thrown away. He loved scoring runs, he cherished the battle and no bowler could rest easy. Sir Richard Hadlee for one could never claim his wicket.

There were times when he was misunderstood, criticised, sometimes of his own making, but there was never any doubt that to him the game was the thing.

It is a travesty that more was not made of his expertise by New Zealand Cricket but he wouldn't be the first person to suffer that fate in New Zealand cricket, or New Zealand sport. The failure to utilise those who have gone before, to seek knowledge before having to reinvent the wheel,  is one of the indictments of New Zealand sporting administrators.

The fortunate thing for future generations of cricketers is that access to much of his batting is readily available through online carriers like YouTube.

The illness that claimed his life was sad, he had so much still to offer but there can be no doubt that Martin Crowe has left a cricketing legacy for the ages.

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